Forest functions and climate change

Forests perform many functions and provide services ranging from wood production, climate regulation, protection from natural hazards to providing habitat and recreational space. Changes in climate conditions can harm trees and forests, and affect crucial forests functions and Services.

Forests provide a variety of ecosystem services, ranging from wood production, provision of clean drinking water, regulation of the local climate, preservation of biodiversity, habitat for animals and plants to protection against natural hazards and the provision of recreational areas. Forests intensively store carbon and thus represent the largest terrestrial CO2 sink.

Climate change is occurring at a pace that mostly prevents evolutionary adaptation of trees and will thus have strong impact on the vitality, the function and the services of forests and on the habitat suitability of native tree species. Drought and high temperatures can jeopardize ecosystem services, for example by reducing tree growth and increasing mortality with impacts on carbon sequestration.

Practice- and policy-relevant robust scientific information on potential effects of increasing temperature and changing precipitation regimes on forest ecosystems is a prerequisite for modern, sustainable forest management. The NCCS priority theme “Forest functions and climate change” aims for the integration and synthesis of existing forest and climate information and the development of innovative new tools supporting communication and outreach for societal, economic and political decision making.

Fig. 1. Two work packages providing tools and information on short-term effects of weather extremes on forest and trees and long-term projections of species distribution and risk assessments for future climate scenarios.

The goal of the priority theme is to further improve the transfer of knowledge from science to practice using web-based tools.


The aims of the priority theme Forest functions and climate change are

(1) to develop web-based tools from existing data sources and models which present the projected changes in the structure and function of forest ecosystems both in the short and long term,

and thus

(2) to further improve the knowledge transfer from science to forest managers in order to adapt silvicultural measures to climate change.

With such web-based tools, informed decision making on various levels (forest owners, forest enterprises, cantonal authorities etc.) will be enabled. The goal is to foster proper understanding of future trajectories of forests and their services and to propose and justify climate adaptation strategies.

To achieve the goal of creating a concise and understandable web-based information source, results of the research program Forests and Climate Change will be linked with those of long-term monitoring within the framework of the LWF long-term forest ecosystem research, TreeNet – the biological drought and growth indicator network, the NFI, and other projects and programs. The aggregation of information on health status, mortality and climate change, risks of mal-adaptation, changes in habitat suitability of tree species and growth will be done in two major work packages (WP).

Work packages

Work package WP 1

Short-term information related to weather extremes and early warning tool: The information can be used as an early warning tool for immediate heat and drought induced threats and its consequences for stem growth and tree water availability. Moreover, the current stress information will be related to long-term projections to put the current information (i.e. stress level) at a given site into the longer-term context (Fig 1, left panel). The combination with seasonal forecasting tools, e.g.,, the yearly Sanasilva data on crown condition and also the LWF meteo data will allow us to generate up-to-date information on climate and weather-related threats to forests and trees on the time scale from days to seasons.

Work package WP 2

Long-term projections of species distribution and risk assessments: Species distribution maps together with the maps of habitat suitability for >20 tree species and various climate projections originating from the research program Forests and Climate Change will be prepared. They provide a local and habitat specific risk assessment and a basis for informed decision-making in forestry (Fig. 1 right panel). Moreover, risks of genetic mal-adaptation of the main tree species will be visualized, exploiting a large common-garden experiment with beech, fir and spruce. The user of these tools will find answers to questions like “Which tree species is at risk in which region and which species will become suitable there in the future?”

The two WP (Short-term information/early warning, Long-term projections and risk assessment) will be linked to guide users through the different temporal scales. This will help them to understand how temperature, precipitation and extreme climatic events will affect near-term and long-term risks for forests and ecosystem services under different climate futures.

Last modification 12.10.2021

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Prof. Dr. Arthur Gessler


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